Truth? This story is hard to share publicly. I've shared it with my husband, but that's kinda it, cause it doesn't paint me in the kind of light I'd want my daughter to see me in. But whatever, she's going to learn I"m human and I've done some stuff I wish I hadn't at some point.
Since I haven’t had a typical life, it comes as no surprise that I didn’t have a typical college experience. I transferred after my first year from living in a dorm room with 3 roommates and having all life on campus at a small private school in upstate NY, to living off campus with acquaintances and attending an enormous university in Colorado for my sophomore year and beyond. So apart from whatever structure I gave it, I didn’t really have a “container” for my college experience after my first year. But that certainly didn’t stop the learning, it just changed it.
Most go to college to learn a skill from a class room that they’ll take on to turn into a career. That wasn’t me in that I took very little away from what I learned in the classrooms. College was an overall playing field for me to practice being a participant in life and I’d keep finding myself in scenarios where I’d develop skills I’d need and use later on.
The first skill I learned in college:
One of the first guys I fell for was a lot older than me. He was a sophomore in college down at the University of Utah when I was a junior in high school up in Park City. He was handsome, a professional ski jumper, as in training for the Olympics, and I met him the summer before my junior year began on a street corner in Park City when he was in town training. Our connection was instant. He never officially let me call him my boyfriend, but he would let me drive down from my house to his for sleepovers on a regular basis. This went on for 2 years and had several unhealthy twists and turns, that took a long pause after he invited me down to spend New Year’s Eve 1994 with him, and I walked in to find him drunk and making out with 2 women. Sure that was bad, but what happened Fall of 1996, my freshmen year in college felt worse. We’ll call him Mike for this story. For some reason Mike and I had been talking a lot again after my senior summer and once we realized I’d be in upstate NY for school and he’d be training in Lake Placid a lot.
Having a romantic contact from outside my college world really made me not engage or want to connect much with the students around me; it was as though I’d given all my power to Mike and making myself available for our conversations. Somewhere in my head I’d created a love story and enrolled him; I’d go to Lake Placid for a long weekend, we’d hang out and do romantic things, he’d realize how much he loved me, and I’d be standing on the sidelines years in the future cheering him on while he was in the Olympics.
That’s not what happened, obviously.
In real life it was November 1996 in the brutally cold east coast and I decided it was time to see Mike again, mostly because I was lonely. We hadn’t seen each other since I left for college in August, but his attitude towards me was enough to inspire me to make the insane decision to take leave early from school on a Friday and take a Greyhound bus way upstate to Lake Placid (like 9+ hours) for 2 nights. I told 1 roommate what I was doing and no one else, because I knew it was insane and I didn’t want to be talked out of it.
While he was there for training I'd communicate with Mike on the athlete phone line which was in the hallway. I’d call the line, someone would pick up and go get Mike, and we’d talk for 15 min or so and he knew I was coming and was fine with it, which I understood as he was excited.
I arrived in Lake Placid on the bus around 8pm and I could see the OTC from my hotel room window, and I was so incredibly excited to see Mike and get attention from him that I almost burst. I was also equally bummed that I had an enormous pimple on my chin, so I wanted to stay in dimly lit rooms, which my hotel room, was thankfully. I didn't want to wait because time was limited, so I wrapped my colorful scarf around my neck, looked at myself in the mirror for one last check, and thought I looked adorable. So I headed out to see Mike, who more or less knew I was coming that day.
There was only 1 public phone at the dormitory in the hallway that all the athletes used while they were at this training camp. They were only allowed to use their cell phones (if they had them in 1996) in the evening. Mike told me all of these details about the space so I wasn’t surprised when I walked in the door. What surprised me was all of the half naked girls casually walking around the hallway. But not only that, they all seemed to be gorgeous female athletes in their underwear and they all had perfect skin and bodies. I walked into the office telling them I was looking for Mike.
The woman’s nod and glance told me she’d just seen him and that he was down the hallway and I felt my heartbeat speed up as I walked out of the office and down the hall and saw him down at the end of the hall with his arm draped around the waist of another girl, slim, pretty and in minimal clothes of course. I don’t think he ever saw me seeing him because I backed away nearly falling over in confusion and ran out of the building. Was this his friend?
I didn’t know what to do. I was here to be with him but I wondered if he was with someone else. He knew I was coming right? How could he do this? I wanted to scream that this didn’t seem fair. But fair to who? I was the weird one who'd just dropped in on his world. When I returned to my hotel room I panicked and called the dorm number 1 more time and it was Mike who answered. “Oh hey (long drawn out, could give a shit tone of voice), you here? The office told me there was a girl here looking for me.” Crap. I didn’t know how to respond. I told him I stopped in for a moment, but then I got a call and had to leave. A total lie. So he didn’t see me seeing him with that girl? Or he did, but didn’t seem to care? But he did confirm where I was staying and that maybe he’d stop by later, and he hung up the phone.
I wasn’t nearly as excited to prep my space for his arrival knowing what I did now, but I did make sure my teeth were brushed and I was wearing something cute that said I was relaxed and low maintenance. An hour later there was a knock on my door and his visit to my hotel room lasted under 30 min and yes it did include sex. Not making love, but sex. He then made up some excuse about having to be back for curfew and I never heard from him again. I was crushed and blamed it on my “freshman 15” weight gain and pimple on my chin.
I didn't see Mike again on that trip, but I did see a lot of myself. I took myself out for breakfast, lunch and dinner, all in different spots across the cute town of Lake Placid, NY hoping I wouldn't run into Mike or any of his teammates. I memorialized the trip by buying myself the latest Ani DiFranco double album at a record store. There wasn't a record store in Clinton, NY so perhaps that's why I'd made the journey (that's what I wanted to tell myself).
The following day as I boarded the Greyhound bus to return to the school I didn’t like, I felt an array of emotions. Embarrassed, heartbroken, sad and mad at myself that I’d put myself in this situation. This was the first true pain I’d allowed myself to experience, and now I literally had to sit with it all the way home.
I never told anyone what really happened on that road trip. When asked how things went, I just said fine, and that I decided I didn’t want to be with him anymore. But that trio of heart break, shock and embarrassment was my first real emotional experience around a guy and I didn’t feel like I had anyone to talk it over with. So instead I stuffed it down in my heart and closed a door.
I never talked to Mike again, but I did see him again 6 years later during the 2002 Olympics in Park City. I’d gotten free tickets to the ski jumping event for doing massage, and a piece of me wondered about Mike and his whereabouts these days. I knew he hadn’t ever made the Olympic team because I saw the roster, but that didn’t stop him from racing through my mind, and me cringing a little when I remembered the drove 9 hours in a bus to see a guy, and got used for sex and ghosted by a guy. And just as my mind was navigating memory lane, there he was. I saw an older Mike standing in the spectator section at the same event I was at, just a few feet away from me, and we locked eyes for a moment. I think he was as startled as I was. He recognized me and sort of nodded and moved his mouth a little. It wasn't not a smile. In our eye contact I think we exchanged a look; an acknowledgement that we'd experienced something weird together and I like to think that maybe the head movement was him acknowledging what happened and saying I’m sorry. Probably not, but it's a nice thought that got me closer to closure.
When Facebook entered the world around 2008 and I joined, there were a few names I looked up out of curiosity, and Mike was one of them. I saw according to his profile that he was married and had a baby. Good for him. This time I smiled at that brutal memory from Fall of 1996 and the lesson I learned from him; to trust the perfection of the Universe and know it will always tells you when a relationship has run its course.
I don’t have a lot of pictures of myself during college and that’s probably a good thing, so for now, we’ll just have a candle.
More lessons from college coming tomorrow.
More lessons from college coming tomorrow.